Members of the Commission:

The number of resident waterfowl hunters has plummeted from 43,500 in 2001 to 30,000 in 2015, a one third decline in the last 15 years. The most recent GF&P survey showed that one of the major reasons for the decline was the loss in available opportunities to hunt. The South Dakota Waterfowl Association and the South Dakota Wildlife Federation hold that the following steps must be taken to begin the process of reversing this disturbing decline and protect the state’s rich waterfowl hunting tradition.

  • Increase opportunity by stopping the commercialization of waterfowl hunting—commercial waterfowl operators lease the best hunting opportunities for their paying customers, excluding the ordinary resident hunter
  • Increase resident opportunity by reducing the number of nonresident waterfowl hunters
  1. Eliminate all three-day waterfowl licenses with the exception of 500 that are restricted to private land in the Missouri River unit
  2. Limit the number of 10-day nonresident licenses each year to eight percent of the average number of resident waterfowl licenses sold in the prior three-years. (This change would make nonresident waterfowl licenses consistent with nonresident big game licenses.)
  • Increase opportunity through a statewide GF&P plan to maximize physical access for waterfowl hunters—This should be done on state game production areas, walk-in areas, conservation reserve enhancement program areas, cooperative hunting access areas, controlled hunting access program areas, waterfowl production areas and school and public lands
  • Increase opportunity by making an increase in hunting opportunity a larger component in GF&P decisions to purchase or lease land
  • Make an increase of 25 percent in resident waterfowl hunters over the next 10 years a goal of the GF&P department which, using the 8 percent formula, would also increase the number of nonresident licenses

Economic Loss brought about by the Decline in Resident Waterfowl Hunters

Commercial operators have convinced many legislators that nonresident waterfowl hunters are economic boon to South Dakota. Our organizations strongly disagree. Too many nonresidents drive out resident waterfowl hunters who contribute more to the state’s economy than nonresident waterfowl hunters. Here’s why:

  • Resident waterfowl hunters:

–Hunt for the whole season, not just a few days

–Travel to locations that require staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and bars

–Spend thousands of dollars on boats, guns, decoys, shells, clothing and equipment in South Dakota, not another state

–Participate in South Dakota conservation organizations that enhance the outdoor experience of all the state’s residents

  • Nonresident waterfowl hunters:

–Are in the state for a small portion of the season

–Usually are already here to hunt pheasants and hunt waterfowl as an afterthought

–often sleep, eat and drink at pheasant hunting lodges and don’t support local motels, restaurants and bars

–Purchase their equipment in their home state

–Don’t participate in South Dakota conservation efforts

Waterfowl Hunting Opportunity is Limited in South Dakota

Although the GF&P survey identifies lack of opportunity as a major cause in the decline of resident waterfowl hunters, commercial waterfowl operators claim there is an abundance of opportunity. They point to maps that show public land and public water. Opportunity, however, requires all four of the following factors:

–adequate water in sloughs, creeks and rivers

–access to that water or those fields

–the presence of ducks and/or geese on that water or in those fields

–limited hunting pressure.

If any one of the four is missing, opportunity doesn’t exist. For example, a slough or field that doesn’t hold waterfowl isn’t an opportunity; a slough that holds waterfowl but doesn’t have reasonable access isn’t an opportunity; a field that holds waterfowl but is leased by a commercial waterfowl operator isn’t an opportunity; a slough that holds waterfowl, is accessible but is inundated with hunters isn’t an opportunity.

Our Organizations are not Opposed to Nonresident Waterfowl Hunters

The South Dakota Waterfowl Association and the South Dakota Wildlife Federation are not opposed to nonresident waterfowl hunters. We are, however, opposed to numbers of nonresidents that exceed the state’s ability to offer a quality hunting experience for its residents. This view is the same as that taken by South Dakota and every other state when they award a vastly disproportionate number of big game licenses to residents than they do to nonresidents.

The Commission has asked us for guidelines regarding setting the appropriate number of nonresident licenses. Our proposal to return to the original intent of the law regarding three-day licenses by eliminating all but 500 in the Missouri River Unit and tying the number of ten-day waterfowl licenses to eight percent of the resident licenses is fair and reasonable. The members of our combined organizations urge you to adopt our proposal, and we are confident that the state’s 30,000 resident waterfowl hunters would applaud your action.


Chris Hesla, Executive Director, South Dakota Wildlife Federation

George Vandel, vice-president, South Dakota Waterfowl Association